PAD good, red shirts bad

5 04 2010

In an earlier post, PPT mentioned New Politics Party Secretary-General and People’s Alliance for Democracy spokesperson Suriyasai Katasila making absurd comments. Prachatai (5 April 2010) has a post on this, giving more detail.

Suriyasai “says the red shirts’ protests at Rajprasong cause damage to the economy and society, and cannot be compared with the PAD protests which were justified. Calling on Abhisit to take legal action, he is concerned that Bangkokians will take things into their own hands.” Perhaps he calling for that? At least we know that the yellow shirts are deeply involved in organizing the so-called pink shirts.

According to Suriyasai, the red shirts “closure of the Rajprasong intersection was meant to pressure society rather than the government…”. Maybe he’s forgotten that the call is for a dissolution and election? He claims the PAD protests “were in a different context. The PAD’s actions were justified, as Thaksin’s nominee governments were illegitimate and unacceptable.” The arrogance is breathtaking but not surprising.

He adds: “It’s no use for red-shirt leaders to distort facts to attack the PAD. And what do they want from the PAD? The PAD is not the government. Their relentless attacks against the PAD now reflect the ‘Wengness’ of the leaders who are implanting bias and hatred, not knowledge and understanding, among the masses…”. We do not agree that there is hatred rather than knowledge. In fact, the red shirt media has been rather active in disseminating information. Sure, there is bias, but like PAD, this is political action. At the same time, we do not recall that PAD was sweetness and light. The rhetoric from the stage back then was racist (on Cambodia), denigrated about half of the population as ignorant, duped and money-grubbing, and was withering in the venal attacks on individuals identified as enemies.

Suriyasai “warned the red-shirt leaders and the Pheua Thai Party, as ‘the owner of the mob’, that victory achieved with hatred never lasted long.” He made a statement that can only be interpreted as saying that an election that Peua Thai wins will again be overthrown by the powers-that-be. He said: “And they should not hope ever to come back to rule Thailand after a House dissolution, because people who feel that they gained power through making threats have the right to oust them. The Thai Rak Thai and Palang Prachachon parties were governments but they could not rule, because they lacked legitimacy.”

Just how thick-faced Suriyasai and his colleagues are is demonstrated when he makes the fanciful claim that the “facts about the PAD’s protests, especially the seizures of Government House and the airports, have been distorted. The PAD, in fact, did not close down Suvarnabhumi Airport; it was ordered closed by Serirat Prasutanont, Director of the Suvarnabhumi Airport Authority, an action suspected to be malfeasance. Serirat is a relative of UDD leader Veera Musigapong…”. PAD can do what it pleases and say what it likes because it is protected by particular groups.

Are the red shirts hurting the economy?

2 04 2010

The claim that the red shirt protests are hurting the Thai economy is one that the government has been promoting, along with its supporters, and is now a common refrain from the yellow-cum-pink shirts. Interestingly, the international media reflects on this in two recent articles.

The Washington Post (2 April 2010) has this to say, citing Joseph Tan, chief Asia economist at Credit Suisse: “While not reflected in stock prices, the political crisis shows up in foreign direct investment, which cuts into long-term economic growth. Thailand’s Board of Investment, for instance, expects investment pledges this year to fall 15 percent.” PPT would put much of that down to Map Tha Phut issues rather than political activism.

It adds: “Chief among Tan’s concerns is the timing of the protests coinciding with the hospitalization of 82-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, admitted on September 19 suffering from fever, fatigue and loss of appetite. TV footage suggests his health has improved, but his hospitalization focuses attention on royal succession.  His son and presumed heir, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, does not yet command the same popular support as his father. Many Thais and analysts fear if the crown passes to Vajiralongkorn while political divisions remain unresolved, opposing factions will intensify their struggle, with destabilizing consequences.  Strict lese majeste laws restrict discussion of the monarchy.” Tan adds: “It is not clear to me how this is going to pan out should the king pass on…”.

So its is the future of the monarchy and succession that worries many investors.

Reuters (2 April 2010) has a long story looking at several aspects and sectors of the economy. On tourism – recalling that the Federation of Thai Tourism Associations has become a pink shirt booster – Reuters notes that the  “Tourism Authority of Thailand expects 15.5 million tourist arrivals this year, up from 14.1 million last year. The red shirt protests could impact this, but those not part of the pink team say “business is doing just fine as big-spending visitors from other countries are shrugging off the problem. AllTheBestTravel says Japanese clients, who are usually sensitive to political developments, are still coming, viewing the protests as no problem unless they lead to the closure of airports.” Reuters observes that “Tourism … has proved fairly resilient to previous unrest.” It adds that, “Just a short ride from the protest site, Khao San Road, a a magnet for low-budget tourists, seems unaffected, with plenty of Westerners in the bars and Internet cafes.”

On investment, Reuters states: “portfolio investors are still putting money into Thailand, driving the stock market to a 22-month peak and the baht to 20-month highs. Foreigners have bought a net $1.6 billion of Thai shares since Feb. 22.” The baht is also rising. The real threat to long-term foreign direct investment is said to be “another coup.” It is added that the  “Board of Investment says investors have not relocate[d] but their investment pledges this year could fall 15 percent to 300 billion baht. Japanese firms, the country’s biggest investors, have expressed concern and might look elsewhere if the crisis continues.” More worrying for these investors however is Map Tha Phut.

Reuters considers that businesses in Bangkok “are largely operating as usual and many around the protest site are thriving, especially convenience stores, hotels, restaurants and stalls selling food and drink. CP All, Thailand’s largest convenience store operator, expects profit growth of 15-20 percent this year…. But some businesses around the site such as petrol stations, beauty salons and non-food shops are suffering, especially those that have opted to close their doors at the weekend.” While consumer confidence has dipped, Thai consumers “have not stopped spending. Domestic auto sales increased in February for the sixth straight month, up 57.7 percent from a year before.”

Official figures seem to confirm all of this: “On March 29 the Finance Ministry raised its economic growth forecast to 4.5 percent from 3.5 percent due to better exports and consumption.” At the same time “it warned the political turmoil could cut growth by as much as 1.8 points if it continued until the fourth quarter and led to a dissolution of parliament.” But that is essentially Minister Korn Chatikavanij’s view and he is unreservedly opposed to a dissolution. Meanwhile, the Bank of Thailand “forecasts economic growth of as much as 5.3 percent this year…”.

PPT doesn’t doubt that ongoing political turmoil could reduce economic growth rates. However, the loud bleating from yellow-cum-pink shirts seems somewhat histrionic.

With 3 updates: Royalists rising

2 04 2010

The Bangkok Post (2 April 2010) reports that a “large number of people wearing pink shirts” rallied at the “entry to Lumpini park on Friday and issued a statement calling on protesters on all sides to stick to peaceful means in promoting their various causes.” Actually, given that they were in a relatively small area, the best description is a “small number of people.” Reuters estimated 3,000, although that is a little generous going by the pictures (which include a couple of images where they apparently set upon a red shirt at nos. 12 and 13).

As numerous pictures show, “peace” was only one concern as many placards were simply anti-red shirt and anti-Thaksin Shinawatra. But none of this matters, for the important thing is that royalists and yellow shirts (now in pink) are back on the streets. And, they are fully supporting and encouraging the military-backed government headed by Abhisit Vejjajiva. Named the “Network for Peace” is yet another yellow-shirted play on words, not unlike People’s Alliance for Democracy, which turned out to be not interested in democracy at all.

As the Post reports, they were led by retired “Pol Gen Vasit Dejkunchorn, former deputy director-general of police, and Charas Suwanmala, dean of the faculty of political science of Chulalongkorn University.” Vasit is not just any old retired police general, but a royal favorite and a determined campaigner against Thaksin. Charas is a well-known yellow-shirted academic from the most royalist of universities. More on Vasit is available from one of PPT’s most read posts. He has also recently been working for the Democrat Party-led government and has long been a Thaksin opponent.

Vasit and Charas are reported to have sworn “an oath before the statue of King Rama VI, at the main entry gate, to protect the nation.” Exactly why this statue of this king has to do with royal symbolism – and yet Vajiravudh did much to bring the monarchy down, not least bankrupting the country by his profligate spending – and a location close to the business district, symbolizing the capitalist class’s support for royalist opposition to any change of regime.

The leaders and their group “signed a petition opposing a House dissolution and any constitutional amendments aimed at whitewashing a particular individual instead of furthering the country’s best interests.” The leaders of the groups are said to have “issued a statement calling for all protesters and their leaders to remain peaceful and avoid use of violence, provocation and threats against others who hold different opinions, and to respect other people’s opinions.” Presumably “people’s opinions” should be heard in anything but elections.

At the same time, one of the founding members of the Democrat Party, Lek Nana died and the king symbolically provided soil for his Muslim ceremony. The Nation (2 April 2010) reports that the king via a privy councilor, “granted the soil for yesterday’s burial of Lek Nana, who was a Democrat Party founder, a former minister and the landlord of various prime locations in Bangkok, including the Nana (Sukhumvit Soi 4) area.”

The Democrat Party was founded as a royalist party and Lek was the party’s ninth secretary-general and served as a member of parliament and was a minister for Seni Pramoj’s administrations and science minister under General Prem Tinsulanond. He remained active in the Democrat Party for many years. That the king provides royal prestige to a former minister is not unusual, but the significance of the present tense political moment will be read as significant. Lek Nana was also one of Bangkok’s biggest landlords (after the crown itself, of course) and owned the areas around the Nana intersection, one of Bangkok’s most sordid fleshpots. He also owned the “land on which Democrat Party headquarters is located.”

The royalist political movement is again being mobilized.

Update 1: Bangkok Pundit has a useful post on academics claiming to be “color-less” but in fact being something else – yellow shirts wearing pink.

While PPT realizes that there are many yellow-shirted academics in the universities, it is interesting to note that one source – that is pro-red shirt  – lists the demands and names of the academics from the Scholars’ Network for a Just Society (เครือข่ายนักวิชาการเพื่อสังคมที่เป็นธรรม). It seems that they include 10 academics and 2 graduate students from the Catholic Assumption University, 2 from Chulalongkorn University, 1 each from Prasarnmit, Payap, and Bangkok universities, 1 lawyer, 1 independent scholar, and 4 business people (the most notable being from the Charoen Pokphand group and Bangkok Industrial Gas). It is actually surprising that there are so few.

Update 2: The Nation (2 April 2010) illustrates the continuing bias – and laziness – of journalists there. This article makes a claim that “Despite the red shirts’ criticism, the “pink” movement seemed to be gaining momentum in its efforts to seek support from academics, businessmen and civic-society organisations. The movement’s proclaimed mission of seeking an immediate and peaceful end to the political confrontation has considerably resonated with a lot of Bangkokians frustrated with the red shirts.”

In fact, as PPT has shown, the “movement” is driven by several factors, not the least of which are PAD and Democrat Party organizing of supporters. PPT received an email forwarded from Democrat Party sources that included a virtual who’s who of senior managers at the Bangkok Bank being lobbied for support (we can’t publish the details as that would involve a loss on anonymity and pose a threat to PPT and our sources).

The Nation adds, seemingly bemused, “The red shirts’ suspicion of the ‘pink’ movement may have a lot to do with a prevailing sentiment in the latter group that the government should not dissolve the House of Representatives now as demanded by the pro-Thaksin protesters. The no-dissolution advocates have cited the risk of denting investor confidence as well as the unresolved Map Ta Phut issue as reasons.” PPT would suggest, as the journalists well know, that the suspicion derives from the fact that yellow shirts are re-mobilizing. That has the support and urging of the military and its government.

Update 3: The Nation (3 April 2010) has a useful report on the pink shirt rally. It estimates 2,000+ people attending “to oppose an early dissolution of the House and vowed to protect the monarchy from alleged attacks by the red shirts and fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.” Prime Minister Abhisit later received a “10-member delegation of the pink shirts.” The crowd at Lumpini “chanted royalist slogans and songs alternating with the demand that the Abhisit administration must not dissolve the House.” Leaflets claiming Thaksin had defamed the king were distributed. Apparently about “500 royalists amongst the pink shirts refused to leave the site even long after leaders … were gone. They kept singing royalist songs well into the late afternoon.” The report describes the royalist crowd as “frenzied.”

One of the pink shirts meeting Abhisit was Chulalongkorn University medical lecturer Tul Sithisomwong, who claimed that the group saw “themselves as a civic group opposing the offensive attempts against the monarchy, an unjustified snap election and runaway protests disrupting normalcy and peace.” Tul said that he “urged Abhisit to remain in office because by the outcome of his straw poll via forwarded e-mails, more than 10,000 people did not see a snap election as a way to resolve the political predicament.” Now there’s democracy at work!

Tul also reaffirmed that the pink shirts were not linked to PAD. He said that, “In the past, he used to take part in the protests led by the yellow shirts but his present involvement in the civic group was not a disguise for the PAD…”. PPT has already pointed out that Bangkok Pundit (see Update 1 above) puts this fabrication into context, showing Tul acting as a representative and member of PAD on 6 February 2010.